Why The Canadian Mounties Have Red Coats

Canada is famous for many things: celebrities you thought were American, cold, being polite, the best culinary invention of poutine. One very popular and iconic image of Canada, though, is the Mountie. Better known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Mounties are distinguishable by their uniform of a brown Stetson and a bright red coat.

The red coat is not for camouflage, clearly, so why is that Canada's iconic police force wears such distinctive clothing? As always, it has to do with symbolism. According to Tourism Regina, the coat worn by the Mounties is called a serge and was chosen based on the old uniform worn by the English army. You know, the army that Paul Revere and other Midnight riders warned about when they yelled, "the Redcoats are coming!" The RCMP's predecessor, the North-West Mounted Police, chose the color in the 1870s to differentiate themselves from the U.S. army, who wore blue.

It was important that the police wore the red coat, explained the Canadian Encyclopedia, because of what it represented to the people in Canada's northwest territories. They had to distinguish themselves from the Americans to gain the trust of the Indigenous People, who preferred dealing with the British. The early versions of the red coat were fashioned from a Norfolk jacket, a popular style in the 1800s with loose pleats, a line of buttons with a belt. It was comfortable for use in the frontier but was replaced with a fancier version.

The Mountie coat became a marketing move

The Mounties' full uniform actually consists of the red serge, blue pants, shiny boots, and the hat. The RCMP official website said the pants used to be a different color and some people wore a helmet or a pillbox hat tilted to the side with chin straps. Eventually, the coat was redesigned to look more like dress uniforms, evolving from the Norfolk jacket to add more formality to it.

As the original force transformed into the RCMP in the early 20th century, they decided to keep the original red uniform. At that point, people were already very familiar with the scarlet coat since the North-West Mounted Police had been around for a while. While the North-West Mounted Police merged with another policing group (the Dominion Police), the red jacket went unchanged.

The Canadian government even saw the importance of the red serge as a marketing tool for the country. Even during the 1880s, illustrations and photographs of the Mounties in their traditional uniform were printed in pamphlets promoting Canada. As the Canadian Encyclopedia wrote, the RCMP even realized they could use their iconography for good PR. They started allowing the public to watch their training drills as early as the 1870s, which eventually developed into an exhibition of horse riding skills set to music. The Musical Ride is still held today.

Don't be disappointed when you see a Mountie in Canada

Since Mounties function as a full police force for much of Canada these days, they don't always wear the whole get up. The red serge has become more of a ceremonial uniform. Everyday Mountie uniforms are now blue or brown shirts that are either long or short-sleeved. In other words, if they're not dressed up for a celebration, Mounties look just like other police forces all over the world.

The Mounties still issue the traditional coats, of course. The Toronto Star reported that the RCMP spends 11.8 million Canadian dollars on the uniforms each year. The full kit given to RCMP officers is 121 items, including the iconic red coat, the blue or brown uniform, slacks, hats, gloves, boots, and a belt. It doesn't even include their gun, baton, and pepper spray. It costs about $3,500 to dress one officer. The RCMP gets 1,000 recruits a year.

So why is it that most people still associate Mounties with the red coat and not their regular police uniform? Well, thanks to television shows like Due South and When Calls the Heart, and of course, the character of Dudley Do-Right from Rocky and Bullwinkle, people from all over the world only know that the Mounties wear the red serge. It's become so iconic that there are even Halloween costumes of the Mounties. Nothing can be more Canadian than a Mountie in a red coat, eating poutine and listening to Drake.